Sunday, September 1, 2013

A Selection of Music from Santa Fe

All year round there are music programs in Santa Fe.  Concerts, chorale groups, ballet and opera.   Lately we have gone to a number of these.  As anyone who frequents arts events knows, you win some, you lose some.  Not every concert can be the best you have ever heard but you keep going and play the odds and every once in a while you hit pay dirt and are happy that you went.

The Santa Fe Concert Association is celebrating it’s 75th year of existence here and brings a lot of the music in its various forms to town.   Recently we attended both a classical ballet and a Wagner program from their offerings.

Now Ballet is not my favorite of the arts but I can appreciate it.  After all, my first wife was a balletomane and my wife for the last 38 years spent her youth as a dancer spending several years with the School for American Ballet.  I was, however, spoiled early on by seeing the likes of Rudolf Nureyev and Dame Margot Fonteyn as an early introduction to this art, little reaches that height for me! For the past few years dancers from the New York City Ballet have come to town once a year and this time they brought members of the American Ballet Theater as well.  They were certainly more enjoyable than our usual  contemporary fare from the Aspen/Santa Fe Ballet.  Dancers like Daniel Ulbricht are a delight to watch, but still it did not make my day, so to speak.

Maybe, because of my German Jewish parents’ prejudice against Richard Wagner or the fact that I never care for opera if it is either too long or too heavy I have not attended much Wagner in my life.  I thought it was about time I expand my musical horizons so we attended a concert that was mercifully short and just gave a taste from some of his operas. The Santa Fe Symphony produced stirring renderings of the overtures to “The Flying Dutchman” and “Lohengrin”.  Yes, the small town of Santa Fe, New Mexico has its own orchestra.  Though we have a proportionately older population here the musicians seemed to range from the very young to older, i.e. a perfectly normal range.  I must say the sound they created was impressive.  I was not transported, however, by the imported singers in the segments of “Tannhuaser and “Die Walküre: Heidi Melton who is famous for her Wagnerian voice and Brandon Javanovich whom I liked better.  I am, however, no specialist in Wagner and should not be a judge either.

The artistic director of the Concert Association, Joseph Illick, also acts as conductor and he is a wonderful story teller who brings the performances to life before they start through his introductions.

Every year many thousands of visitors come to Santa Fe to hear the world famous Santa Fe Opera which is in its wonderful outdoor theater which only recently had its roof closed to protect the audience from the normal evening rains in July and August.  Before only the veterans knew where to sit for their protection.  We went to see three operas this year.

The first was the “Grand Duchess of Gerolstein”.  I was anxious to see it because I love Offenbach’s comedic operas such as “La Périchole” and “La Belle Hélène”.  This one, however, was a huge disappointment. The new production was created for the New Mexico-born, but internationally renowned, mezzo soprano, Susan Graham, but the opera really isn’t worthy of her.  It is somewhat reminiscent of a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta but does not reach either that level of lyrics or music.  As I said, you can’t win them all.

The next one was the talk of all the opera news this summer, “Oscar”, depicting the trial and imprisonment of Oscar Wilde.  It was the first opera by Theodore Morrison and it was written for the countertenor from Spartanburg, South Carolina, David Daniels.  The countertenor is the modern version of the castrati of yore.  I did not feel that this opera showed off his talents very well.  From what I gathered from the general feedback people liked the countertenor but not the opera.  I was not a fan of the either and was happy that it was mercifully short. I was, however, grateful to our houseguest who had come to hear the opera and invited us so I got to see and hear what was the season’s  main topic of conversation that I would have otherwise passed on.

For me the highlight of the musical summer was a tried and true opera, Verdi’s “La Traviata”.  We had not gotten tickets right away but then everyone was saying the voices were wonderful but the production was so bad.   It was a very contemporary set using platforms that could rise in various ways with no normal scenery.  From what I gathered the critics were purists who wanted things as they originally were.  The biggest criticism was that Violetta, the heroine, sung by Brenda Rae was played more as a harlot than a courtesan.  Maybe my problem is that I do not object to a bit of sex being introduced into an opera but then I would have forgiven anything to hear Ms. Rae sing. This was the return to the U.S. of the lythe young soprano from Appleton Wisconsin  who is a member of the Frankfurt Opera company. For once I could agree with the NYTImes reviewer that she “soared beautifully in the early going, but it was in her pianissimo singing that she really shone” and her acting was “ineffably touching”. Her death scene brought me close to tears! I enjoyed all the voices, Michael Fabiano as her lover and Alfredo Germont and his father in the opera, Giorgio Germont, played by Roland Wood.

David Gregson's "Opera West"

This opera, where I did not expect any fireworks, made the season for me and any “suffering” I may have had, worthwhile.

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